Historic architect honored

Jack Tierney, Editor in Chief

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An Oshkosh man is being celebrated for his work in architecture 125 years after his design plans were finalized.
William Waters designed buildings throughout Wisconsin that are now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

He designed the Oviatt House at UW Oshkosh, homes on the Algoma Boulevard Historic District, Main Street Historic District and the Grand Oshkosh opera house.

The William Waters Plaza on Washington Avenue, State and Jefferson streets was named after him on June 7, 1980, the 75th anniversary commemoration of Rotary International by the Oshkosh Rotary Club.

His work continued into Northwest Waupaca County where the Danes Hall is being rededicated on its 125th anniversary Nov. 30.

New Danes Hall was originally the Danes Home, a social club for Danish men in Waupaca who wanted something better to do than drinking and gambling at the saloon.

All men born to Danish parents 18 years or older and who were able to read and speak the Danish language were eligible for membership.

At the time, men in Waupaca County had just finished building the Wisconsin Central Railroad in Ashland, Wisconsin, and were described by the periodical as idle and without work.

The Danish men looked for a place to expand their literary knowledge and host social gatherings. Their library within their New Danes Home grew to more than 1,000 books all in Danish.

The Danes Home, the first name recognized by Wisconsin law for the men’s social club, was hosted out of a wooden lodge. The lodge burned down and they rented a second lodge, but that also burned down.

It was in 1894 that the Danish men of Waupaca hired Waters to design their $7,000 flagship, three-story white and red brick building.

“The building will be heated with a hot air furnace, and special attention is given to the best forms of ventilation,” the Waupaca Republican published April 27, 1894. “The ceilings are to be ample, the basement even.”

Their membership increased steadily and was recognized as a landmark place for Danish immigrants and for their Lutheran religion.

The current general manager of the building Bill Clarke said Waupaca County was the birthplace for the Danish Evangelical Lutheran Church Association in America.

By 1945, Danish immigrants in America had more fully integrated into the American culture and the Danes Home membership had decreased from 300 to 35.

On March 8, 1945, The Waupaca County Post published, “”Danes Home, a Waupaca landmark for 50 years, is sold.””
Businessman Henry Bille purchased the building March 8, 1945. He sold the building in 1975, but continued to operate his tinsmith business from it until 1977.

The building remained empty from 1977-80. It was turned into an antique mall after that.

The antique mall owners took out walls on the first floor and built a new stairway in the center of the building, changing the original design.

The current owners of Danes Hall L.L.C purchased the building in 2016 and restored it to its original design. They focused their project on hearing community input and teaching its history.

The restoration of Danes Hall took three years. Changing the design back to its original form, with original wood and windows, was one of the highlights of the rebuild, partial owner Joe Koehler said.

The three Koehler brothers purchased the building and took on the project because they wanted to teach their children about their Danish heritage.

In May 2017, approval for modifications was granted and the restoration phases began.

Koehler said it was not to turn a profit, but to give the community back something that was beloved.

Koehler described Danes Hall as a haunted house before the renovations, as it was unoccupied and had boarded windows.

Now that the restoration is finished, the community has something to be proud of, Koehler said. People have been coming from all over Wisconsin, the country and the world to have their events in Danes Hall.

Koehler said he is happy that the project is finished. He said there were times the restoration project became a headache, but having something to give back to the community and to Danish heritage made it worth the time spent.

The Koehler’s plan to keep the integrity of the building by limiting its use to special events. Weddings mostly, Koheler said, “because that is the most special day of anyone’s life.”

The building has also been used for piano and violin recitals, and at the rededication event Nov. 30, a piano player will be playing a “Wisconsin State Waltz” and other songs. Danish Sisterhood Milwaukee will also be at the rededication event.

The ballroom in Danes Hall is made of original wood and has time-period themed paint of beige, white and turquoise.

Large floor-to-ceiling windows fill the south and east ends of the building with natural light and provides a look out across the hills, streams and city of Waupaca.

At the entrance level, Lion’s Head furniture from Chicago, a Steinway piano from Boston and Danish impressionist paintings fill the room.

Danes Hall L.L.C. wants to continue the legacy of Danish people in Waupaca with celebrations of Danish music and arts, the Danish folk school, The Danish Lutheran Church, an ecology park dedicated to Danish Immigrant Jens Jensen and a place for hygge.

“”Our biggest satisfaction has been meeting all the people,” Koehler said. “From the construction workers to the designers to all the people coming through here for events and to see the building. To see how happy people are that Waupaca has a building like this is my payback.”